For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. This short story, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, was the first thing that came to mind when I read the headline American babies are 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than babies in other rich countries. The United States’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world. That statistic shocked me. It’s a form of American exceptionalism we Americans don’t like to think about. As the Washington Post put it, Our Infant Mortality is a National Embarrassment.
I thought about the parents of those little ones, whose crushing loss–losing a child before their first birthday–is immeasurable. The cost of infant mortality on our country is unimaginable.
The loss cuts deeper because infant mortality is a problem we understand pretty clearly. It is not Democrat or Republican, Red State or Blue state. It’s not about who is President. The causes of infant mortality and solutions to it are well known. It is a problem other countries have solved. And it is something we have ignored.
As a visual artist, I believe in the power of art to change hearts, minds, behavior, and the world. Think about the famous AIDS Quilt, a community art project commemorating the loss of more than 80,000 lives. By ‘drawing’ a picture of a problem, we can see and feel the enormity of it. Our country, our leaders, and lawmakers need to see exactly what infant mortality looks like in America.
My vision for TheMourningProject.com was that each of the infants lost in a given year will be remembered with a unique, handmade, heartfelt little elegy. I asked the fiber art community to come together to make 23,000+ pairs of baby booties. This is the number of American infants who die every year.**(update: this number is now 20,000 each year).
Whether sewn, knitted, felted, woven, or crocheted, I asked for donations of handmade baby shoes in the colors of mourning: black, white, and gray. Gathered together, these small elegies paint a picture too big to ignore. We are prepping the booties for the first complete installation in Tucson on October 21, 2023. This data visualization installation will travel and advocate for policy changes that can save lives. Our work will be both a visual reminder of a national tragedy and what we can do about it.
Please stay tuned for more details.
Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about TheMourningProject.com.
Click here for links to free baby bootie patterns.
Click here to learn more about the problem and solutions.
Click here for the Baby Bootie Permissions Form and Instructions.
Click here if you want to host a baby bootie making party!
Click here for a Brief Talking Points handout about infant mortality.
Are you a yarn or fabric store owner? Click here.
How many baby booties have we raised to date? Click here.
heart image courtesy of http://worldartsme.com